Whilst there are many individuals and organisations involved in the development and delivery of work-based learning, it is easy to see that the core beneficiaries are learners and companies.
This was confirmed by the European Commission, in 2013, when it referred to work-based learning as a win-win situation confirming the benefits for companies and individual learners from having the right skills for the job (Work-based Learning in Europe: Practices and Policy Pointers, European Commission, 2013).
Through work-based learning, individual learners have the opportunity to align theoretical learning with the expectations of their future sector or profession. That said, work-based learning offers more than just occupational or vocational skills development with many learners confirming that workplace or work-based activity brings forth a whole range of other skills and competences.
In this respect, work-based learning provides an opportunity to be creative, take initiative and actively communicate with other staff (including in foreign languages for those aligning work-based learning with international mobility) and might afford access to new technologies that traditional learning environments have yet to embed.
For companies and the future labour market, whilst there is an obvious cost associated with participation in, or the initiation of, work-based learning - be this through direct remuneration, the reattribution of tasks and labour or the time associated with development and delivery – there are also many rewards that favour a return on investment.
For companies participating in apprenticeship or in-company learning schemes, the rewards are obvious with skilled (or upskilled) employees that are better informed, better skilled and more effective, thus improving the overall efficiency of the company and ensuring it remains competitive in the future.
For companies participating in work placement, work experience or project-based learning activities - either within the workplace or within traditional learning environments - rewards are often less tangible, yet such schemes can be a significant contributor to workforce development in areas where there are identified skills gaps, or where occupations or sectors are among the less-favoured (or less fashionable). Some companies also participate in such activities as a part of corporate social responsibility schemes.
For other organisations such as those working in the provision of education and training (schools, colleges, Universities, training centres), there are also numerous benefits to incorporating one or more work-based learning activities into new or existing provision. In all cases, programmes can be better marketed or promoted where they are shown to be directly relevant to one or more careers or professions. Additionally, a practical work-oriented module or semester can be attractive to individual learners.
Staff development programmes are also easier to achieve when aligned with company input, or in-company placement, and can lead to more relevant and better informed programme delivery. Also, by partnering with local companies, access can be afforded to new techniques or technologies that might facilitate the teaching of specific vocational or occupational practices.
Finally, society as a whole can benefit from work-based learning as it contributes to the development of a more skilled workforce, ensuring the continuing relevance of knowledge and skills and, as a consequence, reducing the risk of unemployment for those required to change their job or profession at one or more points in their working life.
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Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes (European Commission, 2012)
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Work-based learning in Europe: Practices and Policy Pointers (European Commission, 2013)
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